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When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert

“A story about the deepest bonds of an adamant friendship When We Were Infinite is a timely novel that gives us the shape and sound of grief, loss, and love.”

Cecelia Beckman, Sheaf & Ink

The Story

Beth Claire, a high school senior, only wants one thing, for her four friends to be together for a lifetime. She’s desperate to keep them all together.  She is the glue to the puzzle that is their friendship. And after witnessing one friend being abused by his father followed by the unthinkable happening, Beth will do anything to stop the glue from weakening.  Even at the cost of her future happiness.

My Review: When We Were Infinite

Have you ever read a book and felt a myriad of different emotions?

I’m still trying to recover and process the emotions that I went through after reading When We Were Infinite:









Like an expert surgeon, Kelly Loy Gilbert’s words were razor sharp, cutting through my emotions as though they were tissue paper, leaving me an emotional wreck.  Everything Beth experiences the reader equally feels.  Gilbert masterfully depicts a teenager in crisis.  She does not shy away from topics of abuse, anger, anxiety, depression, grief, panic attacks, suicide, and neglect.  Each of these topics, like iridescent and enduring threads, are woven together with precision and eloquence.  The narrative never feels artificial or written without care.

My Thoughts

Gilbert also addresses the pressures of being an Asian American teen.  The high expectations, the educational demands, the language and culture and the juxtaposition of those who are biracial, like Beth.  And we see and feel how being biracial or mixed affects Beth so acutely.  She feels as though she will never be enough.  That she is lacking in some way.  Fully aware that because of her mixed heritage she is somehow seen as an outsider to the Asian culture.

There are many triumphs in this novel, the biggest one for me is the music.  From the opening pages you could feel and see the tempo. The varying cadence, rhythm and sound of the story ever changing from a crushing deluge to a relative calm.  But always that sense of unease ever present, like the airy scratchy sound of a violin.   This frequent unease comes from Beth.  How her character expects so much of herself, wanting to be this perfect ideal which leads to her declining mental health.

One Last Thing

Further, the music carried Beth through each phase of this novel buoying her like a life jacket in the eye of the storm.  Each moment and each experience comes back to the idea of limitlessness.  And like music, the novel brilliantly shows how the infiniteness reflects in ourselves, our choices, and who we call friends. Gilbert beautifully wraps this incredible novel with a ribbon of hope.  She reminds us of the bonds of our friendships and how that shapes who were are as adults. When We Were Infinite is a narrative that you experience and come away changed by the enormity of what you just read.

Happy Reading ̴ Cece

RATING: ink blotink blotink blotink blot – Exceptionally Inked

Author: Kelly Loy Gilbert

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: March, 2021

Pages: 368

ISBN-10:  1534468218

ISBN-13:  978-1534468214

Audience: 12 and up

Jacket Illustration: Akiko Stehrenberger

Jacket Design: Lizzy Bromly

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Need More Book Recommendations?

Sheaf & Ink has reviewed a number of Young Adult novels in contemporary fiction like When We Were Infinite. Read I Wish You All the Best and One of the Good Ones reviews to find your next favorite book and join the conversation. We love hearing from you.

Sheaf & Ink Book Review I Wish You All the Best, by Mason Deaver

Sheaf & Ink Book Review One of the Good Ones, by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite

Resources after reading When We Were Infinite

Sheaf & Ink feels strongly in supporting victims of abuse or those who suffer from mental health illness. When We Were Infinite discusses suicide, abuse, racism, microaggressions, and mental health. If at any time you are in need of support please go to one of these resources listed below to seek help:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). Crisis Text Line is also available 24/7: text “hello” to 741741.

The Trevor Project

The Trevor Project hotline, for LGBTQIA youth in crisis is available 24/7: 1-866-488-7386.

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline (M-F 10am-6pm ET) 1-800-950-6264 (NAMI)

National Institute of Mental Health

You can find more resources on the National Institute of Mental Health website on mental health and suicide prevention. There is also a list of action steps to help you if you are concerned about a loved one or friend.

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